A couple books about the history of D&D

I was first introduced to D&D in 1979 by some friends in school and was soon addicted. I spent inumerable hours creating maps and dungeons for my buddies to explore, and rolling up characters to populate my own worlds or to play in another kid’s campaign. I played straight through high school but only occassionally when I’d return home from college. After college our group switched to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (a Games Workshop game for which there were some awesome modules being written at the time), but I’ll never forget the real thrill of adventure of those early D&D sessions. Perhaps in a bid to recapture some of that spirit, or maybe because my own kids have expressed an interest in the game I recently picked up a couple of books about the history of the creation of D&D and its legacy.

Empire of ImaginationThe first, Empire of Imagination is a short book by Michael Witwer which focuses on the life of one of the creators of D&D, Gary Gygax. Its a biography of sorts, as well as an entertaining history of D&D, Gary’s life, how he made his passion for wargaming into a business, how he lost control of that business, and his legacy. Witwer does a fairly good job of recounting the history of Gary’s personal saga but it seems to be written from a fan’s point of view and comes off a bit one-sided. I would have liked to see more interviews and stories from other perspectives – especially from Dave Arneson, the main co-creator of D&D who is painted in a less than flattering light. All in all though my main gripe about the book is that it was too short, which is a criticism all authors should strive for.

of Dice and MenI then read Of Dice and Men by David Ewalt. Ewalt treats the subject of roleplaying with an obvious reverence which all gamers can appreciate. He includes interviews with a wide range of folks, reports from the field from gaming conventions, and recounts his visit to Gary Gygax’s home town and the memorial Gary Con. Obviously targeted at folks who don’t know very much about roleplaying, the book is heavy on explanation of the topic which might make it slow for hard-core gamers. The story is sprinkled with vignettes describing the heroic actions of various gaming personas using in-game prose which gives a real flavour for what roleplaying is all about. Entertaining and informative, the book does tend to center very much around Ewalt and his personal experiences which can start to read more like a blog than a history, though his boots-on-the-ground investigative work and extensive footnotes counter this to some extent.

These books reminded me of how much I miss playing D&D regularly. Both provide a lot of references which have already led me to several lost nights of investigation on the internet researching the colorful cast of characters who surrounded Gary and have continued to create great games since those early days. I can recommend both!

Roleplaying online – RPTools virtual game table

Roleplaying used to be a bigger part of my life and I really miss it. There are a bunch of excuses I regularly use to explain away why I don’t play that much anymore, but the main reason is pretty much what I’ve heard from a lot of other people – the gaming group I used to play with don’t live nearby anymore and getting everyone together physically at the same time to play is difficult to impossible. The idea of using a virtual game table over the internet isn’t new, and it appears there are lots of options for online roleplaying. The hard part is settling on one that will work for everyone. The solution has to be easy to install and use, preferably cheap or free.

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I created a monster… and it attacks!

The girls are all into playing D&D whenever they can pry me out of my comfy chair and will run to get books and dice. They will then stand expectantly with puppy dog eyes till I (sometimes) acquiesce. I’ve created a bit of a monster… but I guess that’s part of the point of D&D – slaying monsters, right? I’m using 3.5 rules since I have the core books and I never really got my fill from the very few games I played of it last summer. I’ve been using PCGen, a java based open source character generator which makes rolling up and equipping characters (in any operating system!) as well as maintaining them so very easy. So far not much has really happened in the game – the party is on a mission to find a youth who disappeared from a nearby village and the trail has brought them to a small mining town in the hills.
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